If there is a really hot potato that divides SEO experts and Web designers, this is Flash. Undoubtedly a great technology to include sounds and picture on a Web site, Flash movies are a real nightmare for SEO experts. The reason is pretty prosaic – search engines cannot index (or at least not easily) the contents inside a Flash file and unless you feed them with the text inside a Flash movie, you can simply count this text lost for boosting your rankings. Of course, there are workarounds but until search engines start indexing Flash movies as if they were plain text, these workarounds are just a clumsy way to optimize Flash sites, although certainly they are better than nothing.
Why Search Engines Dislike Flash Sites?
Search engines dislike Flash Web sites not because of their artistic qualities (or the lack of these) but because Flash movies are too complex for a spider to understand. Spiders cannot index a Flash movie directly, as they do with a plain page of text. Spiders index filenames (and you can find tons of these on the Web), but not the contents inside.
Flash movies come in a proprietary binary format (.swf) and spiders cannot read the insides of a Flash file, at least not without assistance. And even with assistance, do not count that spiders will crawl and index all your Flash content. And this is true for all search engines. There might be differences in how search engines weigh page relevancy but in their approach to Flash, at least for the time beings, search engines are really united – they hate it but they index portions of it.
What (Not) to Use Flash For?
Despite the fact that Flash movies are not spider favorites, there are cases when a Flash movie is worth the SEO efforts. But as a general rule, keep Flash movies at a minimum. In this case less is definitely better and search engines are not the only reason. First, Flash movies, especially banners and other kinds of advertisement, distract users and they generally tend to skip them. Second, Flash movies are fat. They consume a lot of bandwidth, and although dialup days are over for the majority of users, a 1 Mbit connection or better is still not the standard one.
Basically, designers should keep to the statement that Flash is good for enhancing a story, but not for telling it – i.e. you have some text with the main points of the story (and the keywords that you optimize for) and then you have the Flash movie to add further detail or just a visual representation of the story. In that connection, the greatest SEO sin is to have the whole site made in Flash! This is is simply unforgivable and do not even dream of high rankings!
Workarounds for Optimizing Flash Sites
Although a workaround is not a solution, Flash sites still can be optimized. There are several approaches to this:
These approaches are just some of the most important examples of how to optimize Flash sites. There are many other approaches as well. However, not all of them are brilliant and clear, or they can be classified on the boundary of ethical SEO – e.g. creating invisible layers of text that is delivered to spiders instead the Flash movie itself. Although this technique is not wrong – i.e. there is no duplicate or fake content, it is very similar to cloaking and doorway pages and it is better to avoid it.